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From Out of a Dream [Quest]

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  • You pull the stone out of your bag and look at it for a while. The swirling colors and shapes drawn you in. What you have accomplished in the last few years would have been impossible without it. And yet, Silver Sky’s words stick in your mind. There could be consequences to using the stone that you cannot see, yet. And… well, you have already finished making most of what you wanted, have you not? One hundred healthy children, land and homes for them to live in, a horse herd and some other things to help them on their way… You do not need the stone any more.

    You pull Cleaver off your back and stab it into the ground – deep, but not too deep. Then you pull and pull on the hilt until you lever up a good-sized chunk of dirt and grass out of the ground. One or two more cuts make the hole a bit wider. With a little twinge of regret – or guilt? – you drop the stone into the hole, and push the earth back on top of it with your hands. Then, for good measure, you pull over some of the rocks lying around to make a small cairn on the spot.

    After that, you go on about your business, telling yourself it will be better this way.



    It is dusk when you go to the traders’ camp. You approach from the western side, counting on the falling sun to weaken any watcher’s eyesight. They have pitched tents around a slew of wagons, most of which are empty. At this hour, a lot of people seem to be out of their tents and sitting around cooking fires. The southerners are a raucous bunch – you can hear them talking loudly or singing well before you can see most of them. Based on the noise and other clues, you would guess that about thirty people came with this small caravan.

    There is not much cover to be had, so staying unnoticed is mostly a matter of staying low and picking your times to move very carefully. There are two men who periodically circle around the camp – either on guard or just one long circuitous walk, you are not sure. You slowly close in when they move away, and manage to get inside an unoccupied tent just as they come around again. Then you are stuck there for some time listening to them jabber while they stand around, apparently having become tired of patrolling.

    “…queer folk, these. I tell you true, I can’t tell ‘em apart.”

    “That’s because you’re not looking right.”

    “What’s to look for? They’re all about the same size, same age, wear the same clothes. And they’ve all got purple eyes. What kind of a color is that?”

    “No, some are prettier than others. When I went out there the other day, there was a cute one who kept looking at me.”

    “Oh, right? Did you get her name?”

    “No, she just told me to get lost like usual.”

    “Well, what’d she look like?”

    “Oh well, she’s about my height, good figure – you can tell she’s a good worker –”

    “Sounds like most of them, friend.”

    “- and long braids.”

    “They’ve all got the braids, friend.”

    “That’s not – oh, forget it. You had to be there.”

    “If you say so.”

    “So, look, I was talking to Heng, see? Heng came up here on the last run. He says that then they let the carts get all the way into the village, so they could get a good look around.”

    “Uh huh.”

    “Heng was also in the front on this trip, so he got a ways in before being turned back. You know that big house they’ve got out there now?”

    “The one you can see on the east side? Yeah.”

    “Heng says he saw a bunch of women and kids around there, all ages. Looked hardly anything like the rest of the Nar-adis-somethings.”1

    “Huh. What do you think? Slaves? Captives?”

    “I dunno. Heng didn’t say they were being guarded or nothing. But that’s not all – he said the house wasn’t there last time.”

    “What, are you kidding? He must be blind. You don’t build one of those in a month.”

    “Well, I believe him. It looks new to me…”

    Finally, the pair moves on. When their voices die down, you quietly step out of the tent and make your way further towards the center. Other tents, carts, and piled boxes hide you for a moment or two at a time while you travel inwards. In the middle of the camp, you find a pair of fat people sitting side by side in folding canvas chairs before a fire. One is a man, fair-skinned, richly dressed, and with an impressively bushy black beard. The other is a woman, also fair-skinned and richly dressed, with several spikes keeping her hair in a tight bun. Based on what you have been told by the Sunblessed, these two are probably Kun and Ling. Kun, the man, is idly poking at the fire with a long stick. Ling is leaning back in her chair, playing with some device that looks like a bunch of beads mounted on a tiny rack.

    You take up a position behind them, lying in the shadow underneath a cart. It is a tight fit with all your weapons strapped to you, but from here you can easily hear everything they say.

    “…came on a bit too strong, dear,” says Ling, snapping beads from one side of the rack to the other. “They think they’ve been cheated, so they’re keeping us out.” The rattling from her device punctuates each sharply spoken word.

    “Have a little patience, love,” replies Kun, without a care in the world. “Heng says he saw their chief come back today, with a big train behind him. If that doesn’t put these people in the mood, nothing will.”

    “We’re eating profits every day we wait, literally. We’ve put too much into this venture – “

    “ – we’ve put too much in to just quit when we’re so close,” interjects Kun, talking over his wife.

    “Please don’t interrupt, dear. I was going to say that we have too much to lose by waiting for them to be ‘in the mood.’”

    “Commerce is like love, love. You can’t force it.”

    “No, but we can work for it. Now, listen – suppose we take, oh, ten percent of the shinier goods and try walking them into the village as a tribute to the chief or something? They’d buy that, and we’d get access to everyone else.”

    “Not a bad idea, love, but how do our margins look after ten percent?”

    Ling rattles on her device and clucks her tongue. “Could be better, but at this rate we’re going back with nothing. At least this way we get a rapport on.”

    “Hmm. Well, I think we can risk waiting a little longer. Big Man Otgonbayar only just got back today – sure, he didn’t come see us at once, but that could mean anything. How do the numbers look after, say, one more week?”

    Ling flicks a few beads. “Down five and a half, and if we have to wait longer than that or try the tribute plan then… well. Depends on our return, but frankly I don’t think we’ll cover all expenses. Are we sure it is necessary to go through the chief at all?”

    “Yes, it is,” you rumble behind her, having found time to get out from under the cart and up to her chair unseen. “The Sunblessed are my people, and I’ll be the first to choose who they treat with.”

    Both of them give a start. Ling stands up, knocking over her chair, and spins around to face you. Kun nearly pitches forward into the fire, then falls back and turns his head. There is a beat while you all look each other over.

    “Dear, who was supposed to be on watch this evening?” says Ling, taking a breath.

    “…I believe it was Bai and Guan, love,” answers Kun, not taking his eyes off you.

    “I think we should fire them, dear.”

    “I agree, love.”

    “Oh, but where are my manners? We welcome you, great chief,” says Ling. Her manners have completely changed – like market-stall hawkers everywhere, her smile and tone lets you believe you are the most important person in the world to her, while her eyes tell you that she wants to know how much you are worth in silver denominations. “Please, have a seat!” She bends over, picks up the chair she was sitting in, and sets it down in front of you like she meant to do that all along.

    You remain standing and cross your arms. “This isn’t a formal visit. I want to know what you have to offer to justify my not driving you out of here.”

    Ling’s smile stays constant. “Of course! We bring a variety of manufactured goods and jewelry from all over the region – even some fine crafts from the furthest reaches of the world!” The noise she’s making is drawing the attention of other people at the camp, all of whom are shocked to see a large, heavily-armed stranger in their midst. A motley assortment of people – mostly southerners you recognize, but a several have skin tones or dress suggesting they come from somewhere else – gathers around to watch as Ling gets into her pitch.

    She brushes past you and lifts the lid off the chest sitting by the cart you were recently underneath. Inside, packed in straw, are a collection of ornaments. Ling starts pulling them out, one after the other. “A fine glass pendant, carved from the crimson crystal of Chiaroscuro! A marvelously sharp pair of bejeweled Varangian bronze knives! And this remarkable amber stone, taken from the very lifeblood of a tigeroak and engraved with the blessings of Sextes Jylis.” The fading light does not show off the pieces well, but they do seem to be of good quality.

    Kun pulls himself out of his chair with some effort and ambles over to the cart. “We also have a selection of steel tools, if you prefer more practical things. Or perhaps if you want something special, we can make a special trip just for you next season.“

    It looks like they are warming up. You should probably say something before they get too hot.

    What do you want?
    • Bling. Signs of wealth to make the Sunblessed look as prosperous as they feel. Those knives would especially good on your belt.
    • Steel. Good, solid tools for work or war. You still can’t make these yourself without magic, and the need for them is constant.
    • Nothing. You don’t want anything these people have.
    • Something else?

    AND
    What do you offer?
    • Silver. Everything you saved from a lifetime of killing for pay is still there, waiting to be spent.
    • Exotics. Buck-ogre horns and hides should fetch a fine price.
    • Food. The Sunblessed have enough to spare – swapping what you have too much of for something you have too little of is what trade is all about, right?
    • Nothing. You don’t want to give up anything you have.
    • Something else?
    1
    ”Nar-adislagdsan.” Say it right!



    On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

    Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz

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    • We want steel for tools. Offer Exotics. Save the food for trade with the Wanderers.

      If the Sunblessed want Jewelry, let them trade on their own. Give them a basic primer on what they have to trade and how trade works. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't get too ripped off (or trade away something they aren't suppose to), but it will be a good learning experience.


      I write things.

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      • What wonderandawe said. Steel tools are useful and necessary, and unless we want to change our mind about the Stone we'll need a new supply of them until we can forge our own. Offer Exotics for now.

        Save the food for trade with the Wanderers. The Buck Ogres may be gone, but in the short term they are in need, and likely can still offer something of value to us. Trade isn't just about trading away what you have, it's also about offering what the buyer wants most.


        Share your wonders in The Artifact and Evocation Workshop

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        • I mostly agree, but I think the buck-ogre parts would be more useful to us and our tribe, while that silver's just collecting dust. I have no doubt they'll take coin quite readily.

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          • WarDragon has a point. How about some buck-ogre hides and some silver for steel tools?


            Like my Avatar? Courtesy of Jen! : Anybody want their characters to be experimented on ? post 98
            An Exalt is never unarmed.

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            • We have no reason to trade with these deceiving, theiving bastards when we could trade with the Wanderers instead. Unless the Wanderers have no steel or stone, no tools or weapons, and no artisans, there is abolutely no reason to encourage these cheating thieves. Besides -- they came with weapons, and they want to distract the Sunblessed from what is important with worthless trinkets and baubles. And we still have to assume that they will want to kill everyone if they learn who we are and that we're Blessed by the gods, just like all the other godless southerners. It's already bad enough that they know where the village is and could lead an army here anytime they want -- we absolutely can't afford to give them any opportunity to learn who we are/were, or learn the Sunblessed weren't born and decide that makes them evil xian or something.

              Southerners are fundamentally untrustworthy and dangerous and the Sunblessed should have nothing to do with them unless we have no other option. Relying on the Stone would be far better than giving these people access to the village and the opportunity to cheat, rob, and/or massacre the Sunblessed. We also don't want them to have a chance to find out the Wanderers exist, they'll rob or maybe kill them too.

              We should learn what we can trade with the Wanderers. We should get Silver Sky to explain more what he means about the Stone causing problems (he wasn't very informative). Only after we are sure we have no other possible options, should we consider trading with these southerers. If that time comes WE can go to THEM, with some children to observe the transaction, and trade for steel. (But even then, what could we trade? Food we should store or trade with the Wanderers. Ogre hides and antlers and bones and sinews are useful materials that we may need. Silver could give away our identity (leading again to the "kill everyone" problem), because they'll know or figure out easily that no southerners have traded with or seen the Sunblessed before, so that leaves only one person that money came from.)

              The silver isn't useful (unlike antler and leather and meat and food), but knowledge of our village, knowledge of the Sunblessed themselves, and access to them, are the most valuable treasure we have to guard and protect. They have already seen and learned far too much! Trading must NOT occur here at the village.

              Later, much later, when the Sunblessed are more numerous and better armed/defended, and more self-sufficient and experienced, then they can learn to trade with untrustworthy outsiders.
              Last edited by Erinys; 12-23-2015, 04:25 PM.


              I am extremely literal-minded and always write very literally. If I don't say something explicitly, please never assume I implied it. The only exception is if I try to joke.
              Exalted name-generators, Infernal and 1E-2.5E homebrew from many authors

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              • ...I almost think you're making an argument for wiping the traders out, Erinys.

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                • Not necessary yet. They may be useful later, and their disappearance would not go unnoticed. Other southerners probably know they came to the steppes to trade. But they're a threat and we need to keep them at a looonnnggg distance.


                  I am extremely literal-minded and always write very literally. If I don't say something explicitly, please never assume I implied it. The only exception is if I try to joke.
                  Exalted name-generators, Infernal and 1E-2.5E homebrew from many authors

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                  • “We can use steel.” Your words cut into the middle of the traders’ speech. “Forget the baubles.”

                    “Oh, but of course, great chief,” says Ling as she quickly puts the shiny toys away. “It shall be as you wish.” If she is disappointed, she hides it well.

                    “In exchange, you’ll get fifty fresh buck-ogre hides and… sixty dinars.”

                    “Dinars?” exclaim Kun and Ling simultaneously, both incredulous.

                    “Take it or leave it. Bring the goods into the village tomorrow morning for inspection – if they’re alright, we’ll trade.”

                    “Oh, but great chief, surely -”

                    “My name is Otgonbayar,” you bark. “Say it right.”

                    Kun seems mystified and goes mute. Ling speaks up after a moment of silence. “Otgonbayar, we thank you for this generous offer. However, we have much more to show you – “

                    “I’m sure you do, but I’ve seen all I care about,” you interrupt again. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” Then you turn around, ignoring their protests, and move out of the firelight. You have to push past a few gawkers to get to the tent line, but once you are there it is simple enough to break line of sight. When they come after you with more great deals, you are already gone.

                    The traders do come the next day – either because they really were impressed with your offer or because they had no choice. Several carts roll into the village center, stacked high with crates and flanked by merchant guards. The Sunblessed watch them come in with a mix of curiosity and suspicion. You wait in the middle of a group of children designated as your honor-guard, all dressed up with hunting trophies for effect.

                    Under your strict direction, the trade goes smoothly. The Sunblessed bring out a little chest with some of your silver in it along with stacks of hides. Kun and Ling look over your things and make a show of presenting you their goods. You pretend to be disinterested until you are ready to make the same offer you made last night. They accept because no merchant worth their salt would turn down so much cash. The crates in the carts are swapped for the silver and hides. There is much bowing and wishes for prosperity. Then the merchants leave, under escort, and you breathe a sigh of relief.

                    Soon after, you make a quick inspection tour of the village. The Sunblessed spend some time examining their new equipment before they go back to work. The horse herd rambles through their pastures, idly passing the time. Hunting dogs run around chasing vermin or nap in the sun.

                    As you pass by the mothers’ house, you hear angry shouting coming from inside. A pair of your sons drag a man out the door by the arms while he spits curses at them. When they let him go, the man stumbles away, sullenly silent. You realize that it is Grim Hammer when he spares a second to glare in your direction. You pause your walk, cross your arms, and watch him as he purposefully walks away northwards.

                    Your sons do not know much, only that Rose came to fetch them because a visiting Wanderer was causing a disturbance. Unsatisfied, you go inside the mothers’ house to find Wisdom Ornament, and find her talking with a short woman you vaguely remember seeing before.

                    “[…if he will not understand, that is no fault of yours,]” insists the matron.

                    “[I know it is no fault of mine! It is not a question of fault!]” snaps the short woman. She is bouncing an infant on her knee, causing the child to cry in short starts. They seem to respond more to her voice than her actions.

                    “[Is Grim Hammer your husband?]” you say, stepping in. Wisdom Ornament and the short woman look up at you, surprised. Wisdom Ornament’s face twists into a grimace almost immediately, while the short woman looks chagrined.

                    “[…In essence, yes, Chief Youngest Joy,]” she answers. “[We are… promised, and this child is his. We have not been formally bound, yet, but…]”

                    “[…it is ‘complicated’],” you say, finishing her thought for her. “[You left him to serve me.]”

                    “[I wanted to ensure our daughter would be raised in safety.]” This statement carries some determination to it – it is her justification, not her excuse.

                    “Hmm. [What is your name?]”

                    “[Red Songbird, Chief Youngest Joy.]”

                    “[…You are a furrier?]”

                    “[I know the craft, Chief Youngest Joy. Why?]”

                    “[It matters not – will Grim Hammer be a problem?]”

                    Red Songbird’s face becomes pale. “[I… No, great chief.]” She is not lying, exactly – more like saying what she hopes is true rather than what she thinks is true.

                    You leave the house still unsatisfied.

                    When your inspection is finished, you head back to your own residence. The house you built for yourself is really just a crude stone hut – one of the first you built. Sometimes you think you could make a better one, but every time you start you find that the sturdy shelter is just a little too good to casually replace. It is easily warmed in the winter and cool in the summer, and that is enough for now.

                    No sooner do you get inside and start stripping off all the extra ornaments, than you hear First calling for you outside. With a sigh, you poke your head out the door to see what the trouble is this time.

                    “[Father, Of Iron has come to visit, and he has brought several other Wanderers with him. What shall we do?]”

                    So, the chief has come – probably to thank you personally. That was quick.
                    • Cold welcome. You don’t have the patience for any more pageantry today. Let the chief eat with the rest of the Sunblessed and go see him when you give a damn.
                    • Usual welcome. Meet him the same way he met you – with a private meal in the meeting hut.
                    • Extravagant welcome. There was supposed to be a feast to celebrate the hunt anyway – let him be a guest of honor.
                    • Something else?
                    Last edited by semicasual; 12-31-2015, 09:59 PM.


                    On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

                    Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz

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                    • Usual welcome. We'll observe the niceties, but Of Iron will be treated no better than he treated us.


                      Share your wonders in The Artifact and Evocation Workshop

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                        • Extravagant welcome. There was supposed to be a feast to celebrate the hunt anyway – let him be a guest of honor.
                        Let Of Iron see how things are properly done. Perhaps he will get the hint. He can check and see how the women are being treated and discuss Grim Hammer later.


                        Like my Avatar? Courtesy of Jen! : Anybody want their characters to be experimented on ? post 98
                        An Exalt is never unarmed.

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                        • Usual welcome. We'll start small and build up to a feast.

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                          • Originally posted by L'het'esh View Post
                            • Extravagant welcome. There was supposed to be a feast to celebrate the hunt anyway – let him be a guest of honor.
                            Let Of Iron see how things are properly done. Perhaps he will get the hint. He can check and see how the women are being treated and discuss Grim Hammer later.

                            This. Tradition is important. Let's lead by example.


                            I write things.

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                            • Originally posted by L'het'esh View Post
                              • Extravagant welcome. There was supposed to be a feast to celebrate the hunt anyway – let him be a guest of honor.

                              Let Of Iron see how things are properly done. Perhaps he will get the hint. He can check and see how the women are being treated and discuss Grim Hammer later.
                              This.



                              ((What is the stripping off the ornaments? I don't understand.))


                              I am extremely literal-minded and always write very literally. If I don't say something explicitly, please never assume I implied it. The only exception is if I try to joke.
                              Exalted name-generators, Infernal and 1E-2.5E homebrew from many authors

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                              • Originally posted by Erinys View Post
                                ((What is the stripping off the ornaments? I don't understand.))
                                (That was in reference to this section:

                                Originally posted by semicasual View Post
                                “You wait in the middle of a group of children designated as your honor-guard, all dressed up with ogre-trophies for effect.
                                ...and I noticed that I put in a bit about taking that stuff off twice. Editing that out...)



                                On the frontier of the Wild South, there's only one woman with the grit to take on its most dangerous outlaws and bring them Back Alive, or Maybe Dead.

                                Avatar by K.S. Brenowitz

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